Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as well as ayahuasca operate to significantly reduce activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN). This reduction in DMN activity functions as a kind of ‘rebooting’ of the brain, and is thought to be linked to one of the most enduring therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances.
“What are the roots of psychedelic culture? Why are psychedelics seen as transgressive? How was Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD’s effects entwined with a world at war? In Bicycle Day and other Psychedelic Essays, Alan Piper explores the often forgotten or ignored early histories of psychoactive drugs that helped shape psychedelia.
Falling between the eighteenth century, the Club des Hashischins and the psychedelic sixties, the less explored interwar period has a surprisingly rich culture of drug-induced mind states, which are intimately connected with the birth of modernism. From the literature of Hope Mirrlees, David Lindsay and Ernst Jünger, to Harvard peyote experiments, Hofmann’s occultic network and the relationship of Sandoz pharmaceuticals with Nazi Germany, Alan Piper’s collection is a rich tapestry of literary and social drug history.”
Background: Growing numbers of people are using psychedelics for personal psychotherapy outside clinical settings, but research on such use is scarce.
Aims: This study investigated the patterns of use, self-reported outcomes and outcome predictors of psychedelic ‘self-treatment’ of mental health conditions or specific worries/concerns in life.
Methods: We use data from the Global Drug Survey 2020, a large online survey on drug use collected between November 2019 and February 2020. In all, 3364 respondents reported their self-treatment experiences with lysergic acid diethylamide (N = 1996) or psilocybin mushrooms (N = 1368). The primary outcome of interest was the 17-item self-treatment outcome scale, items reflecting aspects of well-being, psychiatric symptoms, social-emotional skills, and health behaviours.
Results: Positive changes were observed across all 17 outcome items, with the strongest benefits on items related to insight and mood. Negative effects were reported by 22.5% of respondents. High intensity of psychedelic experience, seeking advice before treatment, treating with psilocybin mushrooms and treating post-traumatic stress disorder were associated with higher scores on the self-treatment outcome scale after averaging values across all 17 items. Younger age, high intensity of experience and treating with LSD were associated with increased number of negative outcomes.
Conclusions: This study brings important insights into self-treatment practices with psychedelics in a large international sample. Outcomes were generally favourable, but negative effects appeared more frequent than in clinical settings. Our findings can help inform safe practices of psychedelic use in the community, and inspire clinical research. Future research can be improved with utilisation of prospective designs and additional predictive variables.
A particularly noteworthy aspect of LSD mythology is its existence among both users of the drug and experts in the substance abuse field. Among professionals, some of these myths are pervasive enough to have received mention as “facts” in prominent professional publications.
The PRF helps people with HPPD through research, support and harm reduction.
Plant-based psychedelics, such as psilocybin, have an ancient history of medicinal use. After the first English language report on LSD in 1950, psychedelics enjoyed a short-lived relationship with psychology and psychiatry. Used most notably as aids to psychotherapy for the treatment of mood disorders and alcohol dependence, drugs such as LSD showed initial therapeutic promise before prohibitive legislature in the mid-1960s effectively ended all major psychedelic research programs. Since the early 1990s, there has been a steady revival of human psychedelic research: last year saw reports on the first modern brain imaging study with LSD and three separate clinical trials of psilocybin for depressive symptoms. In this circumspective piece, RLC-H and GMG share their opinions on the promises and pitfalls of renewed psychedelic research, with a focus on the development of psilocybin as a treatment for depression.
In February 2014 Scientific American shocked readers with an editorial that called for an end to the ban on psychedelic drug research.1 The article criticized the mental health treatment industry for failing to advance therapies beyond the golden era of the 1950s, and lambasted drug regulators for prohibiting psychedelic drugs, including LSD, ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin; drugs, which had historically held clinical promise but were “designated as drugs of abuse.”2 As the editors pointed out, the situation has created a paradox: “these drugs are banned because they have no accepted medical use, but researchers cannot explore their therapeutic potential because they are banned….The decades-long research hiatus has taken its toll.”3 Lest there be any confusion as to where the editors stood on the issue, they continued with explicit instructions: “This is a shame. The US government should move these drugs to the less strict Schedule II classification…it would make it much easier for clinical researchers to study their effects.”4 The article brought public and scientific attention to a growing contention amongst researchers, and even some regulators, that the clinical potential among psychedelic drugs had been dismissed due to a moral panic about drug abuse.
Lysergic acid diethylamide holds great therapeutic potential in the treatment of depression, although currently illegal in many parts of the world and seen as a recreational drug. An intercultural ethnobotanical examination of plant substances with similar chemical profiles and effects displays the true potential value of this substance and justifies an increased focus on clinical trials and studies involving it
After a twenty-five year period of virtual prohibition, formal psychiatric research with hallucinogenic drugs has resumed. This article reviews the process by which hallucinogens came to be viewed as beyond the pale of respected and sanctioned clinical investigation, and directs attention to the importance of fully understanding the lessons of the past so as to avoid a similar fate for recently approved research endeavors. The shamanistic use of hallucinogenic plants as agents designed to facilitate healing, acquire knowledge and enhance societal cohesion were brutally repressed in both the Old and New Worlds by the progenitors of our own contemporary Euro-American culture, often with complicity of the medical professions. Knowledge of the properties and potentials of these consciousness altering plants was forgotten or driven deeply underground for centuries. It was not until the late 1800s that German pharmaceutical researchers investigating the properties of peyote re-discovered the profound and highly unusual effects of these substances. A dispute anticipating the virulent controversies of the 1960s ensued, however, pitting proponents of this new model of consciousness exploration against those who questioned the propriety of their colleagues’ enthusiasm for self experimentation and penchant for sweeping proclamations. The history of hallucinogen research in the 20th century has revolved around this regrettable polarization, and as such has impeded the evolution of the field.
Developments in the second half of the 20th century were catalyzed by the remarkable discoveries of the Swiss research chemist, ALBERT HOFMANN. In the wake of his synthesis of the extraordinarily potent psychoactive substance, Iysergic acid diethylamide, a period of active investigation ensued. Notable gains were accomplished utilizing the psychotomimetic model for understanding mental illness and the low dose psycholytic approach for the treatment of a variety of psychiatric conditions. However, it soon became apparent that these models possessed inherent limitations when applied to the orthodox psychiatric constructs then in vogue. The implementation of the high dose psychedelic model, in spite of its apparent utility in treating resistant conditions such as refractory alcoholism, presented even greater difficulties in conforming to the boundaries of conventional theory and practice. Acceptance of hallucinogens as reputable tools for investigation and agents for treatment were dealt a further and near fatal blow when they became embroiled in the cultural wars of the 1960s. Together with revelations of unethical activities of psychiatric researchers under contract to military intelligence and the CIA, the highly publicized and controversial behaviors of hallucinogen enthusiasts led to the repression of efforts to formally investigate these substances. For the next twenty-five years research with hallucinogens assumed pariah status within academic psychiatry, virtually putting an end to formal dialogue and debate.
We now have before us the opportunity to resurrect the long dormant field of hallucinogen research. However, if we are to avoid replicating the debacle of the past it is imperative that we learn from the lessons of prior generations of researchers who saw their hopes and accomplishments dissipate under the pressures of cultural apprehension and the threat of professional ostracism. It is essential that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We are now beginning to take definitive steps to end the protracted period of silence and inactivity, but we must be ever mindful to do so tactfully and with respect for the anxieties that will inevitably be provoked in our colleagues. We must strive to facilitate dialogue and even active collaboration with those who in the past may have been loathe to even acknowledge that this might be a field worthy of study. We must also adhere to current and accepted models of research design, for to disregard the state of contemporary scientific investigation would ultimately undermine our goals of fully exploring the rich potentials of these substances. It will also be critical to learn from the wisdom accrued over the ages by the aboriginal practitioners of shamanic healing, for therein lies the benefits of thousands of years of experience with hallucinogenic plants. For more than two decades now the topic of hallucinogens as tools of clinical investigation and models for healing within has been relegated to the dustbin of history.
Clinical research with hallucinogens has resumed after a generation’s hiatus. To place these new studies in context, this article reviews the history of hallucinogens’ use and abuse, discusses their pharmacological properties, and highlights previous human studies. Research with lysergic acid diethylamide and related hallucinogens with thousands of patients and control subjects was associated with acceptable safety when subjects were carefully screened, supervised, and followed up. Data were generated regarding hallucinogens’ psychopharmacology, overlap with endogenous psychoses, and psychotherapeutic efficacy. Current American and European studies emphasize systematic psychopharmacology, in addition to psychotherapy protocols. Human hallucinogen research will help define unique mind-brain interfaces, and provide mechanistic hypotheses and treatment options for psychiatric disorders. It is critical that human hallucinogen research in the 1990s make use of state of the art methodologies, or consensually define when modifications are required. Training and supervisory issues also must be explicitly addressed.